With a catalog that runs heavy on sultry bedroom burners and dreamy love songs, soulful Spanish-American singer-songwriter Angélica Rahe "just kind of surrendered to" the idea that Valentine’s Day was the perfect time to drop her debut full-length album, "Reina," But this release is more about self-realization than traditional romance, she said in early February.
Two years ago, during a stint working as guitarist and music director for Colombian American neo-soul sensation Kali Uchis, Rahe fell in love with Austin.
"We opened for Lana del Rey’s Lust for Life tour over North America and went on to perform at festivals in Latin America, South America and Europe," she said.
After the Austin date at the Frank Erwin Center in February 2018, she spent a day off exploring yoga studios and soaking in the city’s vibe. She was attracted to the vibrant food scene and she "just loved musically and creatively the spirit of Austin," she said. Shortly after the tour wrapped she decided to relocate.
The move was both geographical and psychological. She had spent years in Los Angeles working as a songwriter and support player for other artists.
"That’s how I kind of got my foot in the door," she said. "I got to learn a lot about how an artist is developed and helping an artist find their voice and figure out what they want to say."
But the music business was burning her out.
"When you’re in the industry too long you start to forget sometimes the reason why you make art, because you start to think too much," she said.
She said she felt it was time to "focus inward and on myself."
Shortly after she arrived in town, she collaborated with Grammy-award winning producer Adrian Quesada, who is currently selling out stages around the world as half of the rock ‘n’ soul breakout, Black Pumas. The two recorded an EP, "Love, Translated."
Quesada’s approach to the work was eye-opening for Rahe.
He was a "Grammy-winning, incredible musician and artist who has all kinds of success," she said. But he maintained clear ground rules to protect his family time.
"He was like, ‘OK, we wrap at 5 because I’ve got to pick my daughter up from soccer practice,’" she said.
"It was like wow, this person actually has a life and a family and there’s a true balance," she said. He had a "sense of this quality of life" that she wanted for herself.
Away from the industry machine, she began working on "Reina" with a renewed connection to her musical essence.
"It was sort of just remembering why I love writing songs," she said. "I took it really, really minimal and I just wrote songs from a very vulnerable place and spent a lot of time going inside and really reassessing my priorities and deciding who I wanted to be."
The title of the record translates to "Queen," and the album unfolds in several movements as a portrait of an artist’s transformation. She grapples with a tendency toward self-sabotage and unhealthy desire before rediscovering her roots, reveling in inner strength and claiming her crown. Along the way we are treated to entrancing cascades of guitar, Spanish poetry whisper sung over lush and lovely soundscapes and a sensual vision of femininity at its most powerful.
Rahe calls the album "pretty much autobiographical." It traces her inner journey as she learned to let go of negative patterns and "see myself a different way and celebrate that and put myself out there," she said.
The album, sung almost entirely in Spanish, is also a testament to Rahe’s rich cultural heritage.
Her father is a Spanish native who serves in the U.S. Navy. Through her childhood, she bounced between Japan and Spain before coming to the U.S. to attend high school in Colorado.
Her parents were both musical. When they had time off they would "gig a lot," she said. "We kind of grew up in the back of clubs and basements watching shows and hanging out with all kinds of musicians and people from all over the world," she said.
She credits her father with her love of guitar.
"At a very early age I was very immersed in that Spanish music and Spanish singer-songwriters and Flamenco culture. That really marked me at a young age, the just kind of passionate nature of that culture and style of music," she said.
Her new album, recorded last fall in Brooklyn, arrives as Spanglish pop — catchy music that shifts easily between English and Spanish — is ascendant. Artists like Kali Uchis, Cuco and Omar Apollo are broadening the scope of American neo-soul, and Spanish artist Rosalia has become an international hit-maker with her lively flamenco pop.
In the songwriting world, Rahe was long a proponent of Spanglish music.
"I was always like, ‘Come on guys this is like my generation, Latinx. ... We speak in Spanglish. We live in Spanglish sometimes. I think it’s the biggest gift," she said.
At its core, Rahe thinks of "Reina" as an ode to self-love, but also to love in general. The title track closes the arc of the album’s hero journey. It’s a song about embodying the "sort of divine self, that higher self, that royal self that’s inside of all of us," she said. "And then being able to sort of recognize that in others."
The release party, featuring the album’s sun-filtered sound beds and introspective lyricism, would make a lovely Valentine’s date for couples, she said, and also for "people just by themselves to come and feel the self-love and just revel in that."